On May 19, singer Demi Lovato came out as nonbinary and announced they will now use gender-neutral “they/them” pronouns. In response, anti-trans pundits of right-wing outlet The Daily Wire mocked Lovato and demeaned nonbinary people in content and on Facebook.
GLAAD’s Mary Emily O’Hara, who also identifies as nonbinary, explained in an article for NBC News that nonbinary “is a term increasingly used by people who exist somewhere along the spectrum of gender, either between male and female or outside the binary altogether. Essentially, it's shorthand for a complex, liminal, both/and relationship to gender that varies widely from person to person.” As the National Center for Transgender Equality has noted, “Non-binary people aren’t confused about their gender identity or following a new fad – non-binary identities have been recognized for millennia by cultures and societies around the world.”
Lovato is one of several celebrities who have recently come out as nonbinary, an act which traditionally has been met with mockery and disrespect from right-wing media. Right-wing media regularly target trans and nonbinary people by misgendering them and fearmongering about their pronoun usage. Misgendering, or referring to someone as a different gender than the one they identify with, is a form of harassment that unduly stigmatizes trans people and goes against journalistic standards.
Research and personal narratives have demonstrated that affirming trans people -- including referring to them using the correct pronouns -- is critical to their well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2018 encouraging parents and medical providers to affirm trans and nonbinary youth, which has been shown to reduce their risk of experiencing depression, homelessness, and suicidal ideation.
In fact, a recent national study from the Trevor Project found that “42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.” The same study reaffirmed the importance of proper pronoun usage: “Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all of the people they lived with attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived.”
Despite this evidence, The Daily Wire’s anti-trans pundits repeatedly mocked Lovato’s identity the day they made their announcement and leveraged the high-profile moment to attack nonbinary people on Facebook.
Daily Wire pundits attacked nonbinary people, using Facebook to spread their bigotry
The Daily Wire has several anti-LGBTQ pundits with large Facebook platforms, including Matt Walsh, Michael Knowles, and Ben Shapiro, the site’s founder. Their Facebook pages, and others from the outlet's network, also seem to be synchronized, often sharing the same content at the same time. Following Lovato’s announcement, Shapiro and Walsh repeatedly took to their pages to mock nonbinary identity.
On Facebook, Shapiro posted a Daily Wire article on Lovato (which repeatedly misgendered them) and cited anti-trans figure Piers Morgan, who mocked Lovato, saying, “I am proud to let you know that I identify as an annoying attention-seeking celebrity.” Shapiro’s post earned nearly 72,000 interactions. Walsh also shared the article to his Facebook page and said, “I am not referring to an individual person as if she is two people. Everyone else can run around sounding like maniacs if they want but I will not be participating. No thank you.”
While other social media giant, Twitter, has taken a crucial step in protecting its LGBTQ users by explicitly prohibiting the harmful practices of misgendering and deadnaming, Facebook has not. However, Facebook's hate speech policy under its community standards does specifically prohibit “statements denying existence” and referring to transgender or nonbinary people as “it.” Additionally, its bullying and harassment policies prohibit targeting private individuals with “claims about romantic involvement, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Additionally, Walsh dedicated more than 10 minutes of the May 19 edition of his Daily Wire podcast, The Matt Walsh Show, to Lovato. During the episode, which was uploaded to YouTube and has received more than 46,000 views, Walsh repeatedly misgendered Lovato and called their video announcement “nothing but ridiculous psychobabble.” He went on to say of nonbinary identity: “None of this can be made coherent because it doesn’t really mean anything.”
Walsh’s monologue was turned into an opinion post for the Daily Wire’s website, in which he reasserted that he won’t respect Lovato’s pronouns, called nonbinary identities “ambiguous alternative identities,” and mocked Lovato’s coming out. From the post:
As I have often argued, the proliferation of these ambiguous alternative identities is really a proliferation of narcissism. Lovato can’t explain what identifying as non-binary means. She can’t tell us how she arrived at this conclusion about herself. None of this can be made coherent because it doesn’t mean anything. What she is really trying to say is that she is more complex and interesting than the average person. She is not sure who she is, but she is sure that whoever she is, she must not be what everyone else is. Her identity transcends all labels — except the 15 different labels she has given herself over the last six months.
Walsh continued by calling on his readers to purposefully misgender nonbinary people:
The Cultural Powers That Be have decided that certain words should no longer mean what they have always meant, though they cannot be bothered to tell us what those words should mean now instead. They are, by force and coercion, attempting to remove the meaning from words without replacing the words with new meaning. Language develops naturally in order to better convey meaning over time. In our case, language is being manipulated intentionally in order to make it less meaningful. That is a very different thing.
Language matters. We cannot have a society without it. Truth matters. We cannot have a society worth living in without it. We are witnessing an attack on both language and truth, and thus on society. And we are going to need to muster the backbone to oppose it.
According to the social media data analytics tool Crowdtangle, the Daily Wire’s pundits, along with the site’s main Facebook page, shared Walsh’s article several times each, earning more than 116,000 interactions combined. Notably, one of Shapiro’s posts about the article, in which he said Walsh was “spot on,” earned over 80,000 of the total interactions.
The Daily Wire and its pundits regularly use its Facebook network to misinform and fearmonger about LGBTQ people
The Daily Wire is a wildly successful right-wing outlet that regularly spreads anti-LGBTQ disinformation and bigotry through online content, podcasts, and social media. It operates a network of Facebook pages that share the same content simultaneously, helping it reach large audiences.
Facebook started marking these pages as operated by The Daily Wire after a series of reports from Judd Legum’s Popular Information, and several pages now display language that they are “proudly managed by the Daily Wire.” Although the relationship between the pages and the outlet is more transparent, Facebook still allows the coordinated network to game the system and earn high engagement.
In October 2019, Legum reported on how The Daily Wire’s network seemed to violate Facebook’s Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior policy, which removes networks of pages that mislead “about the identity, purpose, or origin of the entity that they represent” and use “multiple Facebook or Instagram assets” to do so. Facebook originally denied that The Daily Wire had broken content-sharing rules, but Popular Information reported in July that Facebook finally acknowledged that the outlet was violating “policies against undisclosed paid relationships between publishers.”
The Daily Wire’s use of this network helps it spread anti-trans and other right-wing content and disinformation to large audiences. In fact, a Media Matters study found that The Daily Wire was one of the most successful outlets posting about trans issues over the course of a year from early 2019 and to early 2020.
Lovato’s truth -- and The Daily Wire’s attacks -- come as state legislatures are targeting trans kids around the country
Lovato’s May 19 announcement provides some much-needed visibility to trans and nonbinary youth, whose basic rights and well-being have been under attack around the country. Currently, many states are advancing measures to ban and criminalize best practice care for transgender youth, while many others are seeking to prevent trans kids from playing sports. In fact, the Human Rights Campaign has called 2021 the “worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks.”
Right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups, including The Daily Wire, have fueled similar legislative efforts in the past with their misinformation about trans people. As states consider the fate of trans youth whose physical and mental well-being are on the line, Facebook should not allow the Daily Wire network to continue to fearmonger about or misrepresent trans and nonbinary people on its platform.